The Coming of the Maori
Flutes, throughout Polynesia, were made of a length of bamboo from 12 to 18 inches long with one end closed by a node and the other open. The embouchure, or hole, through which the breath was directed, was near the closed end. The sound holes varied in different island groups from two to four. The instruments were played with the nose, one nostril being closed with a thumb and the breath expelled through the other. Some writers have stated that one nostril was closed by muscular action without digital assistance but such voluntary muscular control is hard to believe.
The Maori had a variety of wind instruments with stops and though they were not all played on the side as flutes, they have been grouped together under that heading for convenience of description. A number of different names have been applied to similar instruments and the same name has been applied to different instruments. It is somewhat difficult to clear the confusion but a classification based on structure suggests the four following groups: porutu, whio, koauau, and nguru.
The porutu or rehu is a true flute with one end closed, the embouchure near the closed end, and three stop holes in the same line as the embouchure. The name porutu has caused doubt from its not being known to informants but it has been accepted in Williams's Dictionary. White describes a similarly constructed instrument as a rehu and we may regard the two names as synonyms. A specimen, quoted by Best (18, p. 133) from a description by Buller, was made from a straight branch of tupakihi(Coriaria ruscifolia), 22½ inches long and 1½ inches thick. The pith was removed from the pith canal which was ¾ of an inch in diameter. One end was plugged neatly with a piece of soft wood and carved with a human head, below which the embouchure was pierced. Three holes were pierced on the same line towards the lower end, the lowest being six inches from the end, with two inches to the next hole and one and a half inches to the third hole or top hole. The stop holes were 3/16 of an inch in diameter. A human head was carved in the middle and another at the lower end. Best remarks that the lowest head had projecting ears as if listening to the sound of the instrument. An apparently more modern specimen in the Dominion Museum (no. 197) is 14¼ inches long with one end plugged, a hole 5/16 of an inch in diameter 1½ inches from the plugged end and three holes towards the lower end (Fig. 73a). The wood is neinei. Best (18, p. 134) doubted the European form of the instrument and it is more likely to have been derived from the old Polynesian form than from a European source. Unlike the Polynesian flutes, the Maori instrument was played with the mouth and not with the nose.
Fig. 73. Flutes.
a, porutu (flute), b, whio; c, koauau, wood; d, koauau, bone; e, whio. a-c, e, after Best (18), d, after Hamilton (46, pl. 57, fig. 1).
The koauau was structurally a shortened form of the whio and it differed from the porutu or rehu, not only in length but in being open at both ends. It was played with the lips by blowing across the open upper end. Some instruments were occasionally played with the nose, the upper end being pressed against the upper lip to close the opening. The top side hole then came under the left nostril and the right nostril was closed by pressure with the right thumb. In this way, the instrument could be used as a nose flute but, as pointed out by Andersen (2, p. 230), this technique could not be applied to the majority of koauau owing to the nearest side hole being out of reach of the left nostril. The instrument was usually four to five inches in length but some were as long as eight inches. The sound holes varied in number to as high as six but three was the most common. A transverse hole through a protuberance in the back was frequently present to carry a cord for suspending the instrument around the neck.
They were made of wood or bone. The woods cited were tupakihi (tutu), kaiwhiria, whau, houhou, and matai. The pith of the tupakihi was burnt out with a live ember and the other woods were probably subjected to a similar treatment. Thus it was possible to clear the pith canals in shorter lengths and so avoid splitting as was done in longer instruments. Short lengths of human bone from the humerus or the femur were preferred to wood not only from the saving of labour in boring the tube but because bone instruments were said to produce a sweeter sound than the wooden ones. The wooden koauau were usually elaborately carved and in some perforated discs of paua shell were inlaid to surround the sound holes (Fig. 73c). The bone instruments were carved more simply with a band at each end or with an additional band in the middle. The carving was sometimes applied to raised ridges which encircled the instrument.page 265
The bone was usually obtained from an enemy slain in battle which gave an additional value to the instrument. An old Mohaka chief who made a koauau from such a source sent it to Captain Mair (2, p. 242) with the appreciative remark that it was the sweetest instrument he had ever played The koauau stated to have been played by Tutanekai to draw the beauteous Hinemoa across the Rotorua lake to his home on Mokoia was made from the arm bone of a priest who had officiated at Tutanekai's birth but was subsequently slain for breaking the tapu of the fasting period connected with the ceremony. This koauau is in the Auckland Museum and Andersen (2, p. 240) gave its dimensions in millimeters which I have converted to inches. The length is 52 inches, the bore at the upper end 0.6 inch, and at the lower end 05 inch. Of the three sound holes, the distances from the upper end are respectively 0.9, 1.75, and 3.6 inches. The posterior ridge for muscle attachment has been smoothed down leaving a raised portion 1.9 inches from the top, which is pierced transversely for the suspension cord (Fig. 73d).
In some instruments fresh holes have been bored and the old ones plugged evidently to change the notes. Andersen made an intensive study of a number of instruments and tested them as to sound. He says (2, p. 232)
"there is a great diversity in the size and shape of the koauau—so great mat it is difficult to see how any uniformity of sound could have been obtained from the various kinds. They differed in the length and shape of the bore, in the number of holes, and in the distance between the holes as well as the diameter of the holes. Some had a hole at the back as well as holes in front."
In spite of their diversity, expert players were greatly admired and they were able to attract the favourable regard of the fair sex as well as giving pleasure to other listeners. It has been said that the melody was merely the medium to convey the words of love messages to those who understood. Though soft, the music carried to a considerable distance, for the love message of Tutanekai reached Hinemoa over a mile and a half of space.
A number of thin instruments made from albatross bones were pierced with three equidistant holes and with a top hole usually out of line with with the others for a suspensory cord (Fig. 73e). Andersen (2, p. 247) found that from instruments with equidistant holes he could produce "no more than a whisding suggestion of what the notes may be." Such instruments may have been made as toys for children. Many of them are very small with the holes too close to finger and these may have been for suspensory toggles (poro).
The wooden instruments were carved usually with the double spiral motif supported by notched bars bounded by converging parallel ridges. A whale-ivory nguru in the Wanganui Museum is 4¼ inches long, the oval bore at the wide end is 1 inch by ¾ inch in cross diameters, and it is carved at the wide end. A number of stone instruments in the Auckland Museum are plain.
Information concerning the instrument as remarked by Andersen (2, p. 262) is contradictory. The term nguru was first used by Hamilton but Williams's Dictionary has excluded it. Hamilton stated that the small end page 267was inserted in the nostril, and as the name implies snoring or snorting through it, he evidently considered that nguru or ngunguru (to grunt, or groan) was a synonym for ngongoro (to snore or snort) but they are distinct words with different meanings. None of the later writers had ever heard it played by a Maori but Parkinson, who accompanied Cook's first voyage, gives a drawing of one and describes it as a whistle made of wood. He further stated that those worn about the neck are 3½ inches in length and yield a shrill sound. Thus there seems no doubt that the instrument, in spite of its name, did not grunt or snort but it whistled. Unfortunately, Parkinson did not say which end was blown or what it was blown with. Andersen could not produce any sound except by blowing across the wide end as if it were a koauau, when it gave a clear sharp whistle like a boatswain's pipe. Playing the holes gave notes of varying pitch and the odd hole at the bend altered the pitch. On the evidence, it appears that the instrument was played by blowing across the wide end with the lips like a koauau, that it gave a whistling sound, and the name nguru is a misnomer. It was probably used for signalling.
A terra-cotta flute with a turned up end like that of the nguru has been found in a prehistoric grave in Peru and Andersen (2, p. 265) suggests that some Polynesian Maori may have reached South America and brought back the Peruvian instrument which became the prototype of the Maori nguru. Some writers have also suggested the possibility and even the probability of a Polynesian navigator having reached South America in pre-Columbian times and brought back the sweet potato from Peru with its native name of kumar which became kumara in Polynesia. It is intriguing to think that he also brought the Peruvian flute. However, had he or anyone else brought it back, the flute would have had to sojourn in eastern and central Polynesia before it reached New Zealand. As there are no traces of an instrument like the Peruvian flute in any part of Polynesia, it must be admitted that the Maori invented the nguru in New Zealand without having received any suggestion from Peru.